Who Needs an Association for Cannabis Professionals? Part 1

ACS Logo

I’m Jordan Tishler, the founder and president of the Association of Cannabinoid Specialists.  This is the story of why I founded ACS and why the world needs a place for clinicians to learn more about cannabis medicine and influence cannabis policy.

The Beginning

I’m a Harvard College graduate and Harvard Medical School graduate. I trained in Internal Medicine at Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital and practiced Emergency Medicine for about 20 years.  The last 15 of those years, I worked at the Veteran’s Administration hospital and bore witness to the sad revolving door of patients who had substance issues.  I became very attuned to and good at treating these problems.   

Around 2012, Massachusetts started discussing a ballot initiative to legalize cannabis for medical use.  Like most physicians, my initial reaction was surprise.  However, I quickly noted that for all the patients with substance issues that I’d seen, I’d never seen anyone actually ill from cannabis.  This apparent lack of toxicity led me to consider whether there might be some merit to the idea that cannabis could function as a medicine.   

Ballots

The Data

At that time, it was fashionable for politicians, pundits, and physicians to say, “well, there’s no data.”  I distinctly recall Hillary Clinton making this remark.  It made me wonder where they were looking.  At that time if you went to PubMed and entered the word “cannabis” into the search, you would get a mere 25,000 studies (presently you get closer to 35,000).  The real problem was digesting and making sense of such a large volume of data.   

Most of the studies were pre-clinical, and most of the clinical studies were focused on trying to prove the harms attributed to cannabis.  However, buried in the avalanche of data were real, useful studies, in human beings, showing safety and efficacy of cannabis for a range of illnesses.   

It took me several years to wade through this data and come to the conclusion that cannabis and cannabinoids could be used to treat the symptoms of several diseases.  Further, all medications have benefits and risks, and cannabis is no different.  Our goal in medicine is always to use medications in a manner that maximizes the benefit while minimizing the risk.  Again, cannabis is no different – and requires the respect we owe all medications.   

Cannabis prescription

Cannabis as Medicine

Shortly after opening my cannabinoid medicine practice, inhaleMD, I was hanging with my friend and world-renowned cannabis researcher, Dr. Sue Sisley (she appeared on one of Sanjay Gupta’s “Weed” series episodes on CNN), who was teasing me about “being a unicorn.” It was her contention then that I was the only doctor in the cannabis space who cared to educate, advise, and follow my patients (rather than just write a recommendation for a medical card and send the patient off).  Despite this making a good story, I was rather upset by this and did not find it funny at all.  The idea that colleagues were writing cards without providing actual care to patients was mind blowing.  I still don’t understand the ethics behind that sort of behavior.   

To me, cannabis medicine isn’t about cannabis, it’s about the patient.  I don’t inherently care about cannabis unless we’re using it for the benefit of sick people.   

Sick child with doctor

Founding ACS

Sue’s ribbing led me to found the Association of Cannabinoid Specialists.  I wanted a forum to find all the good colleagues who were using, or interested in using, cannabis for the benefit of their patients.  I wanted to be sure we all had the best understanding of the human data on these potential benefits, and the risks.  It’s also important to clearly sort the pre-clinical evidence from the clinical and not operate on the basis of what might work in mice.  Of course, it was also very difficult to wade through the mountain of studies and ACS makes several resources available to members to help synthesize this information into usable approaches.   

It also became clear to me as I watched the proceedings in the cannabis industry and the political arena, that nobody was ever asking what clinicians need to take best care of their patients.  The discussion is always about what’s best for business or tax revenue, but never about how should the systems be regulated to best improve patient care.  To that end, ACS has become an active advocate for patients’ needs and the needs of the clinicians who serve them.   

That’s it – that’s who I am, why I thought an organization like the Association of Cannabinoid Specialists was necessary to educate and connect those involved in recommending and regulating cannabis.  I think this is very important for patient care, and I hope you do too.  In many ways, the patients who are already getting cannabis care deserve better than we can give them now, but even more important are the millions of patients suffering with illnesses that we could address, but for whom medical cannabis is neither on their, nor on their physician’s, radar.  Join us to help these folk. 

Group of doctors

In my next post, I will discuss some of the specific areas ACS focuses on and why we encourage people to spend time digging into the science, the fact-based research and how, together, we can help influence how cannabis is regulated.